Tactical Advice

Innovation Is Recession-Proof

Emerge from the recession stronger and more profitable than ever.
This story appears in the March 2010 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Founder and CEO, Innovative-e

A culture of innovation empowers people to quickly adapt services, products and processes to meet the changing needs of clients and internal requirements.

No matter what a business does, the performance of its people determines its destiny. During good times, badly run businesses can survive and even grow. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” When the economic tide goes out, however, these businesses are certain to be left high and dry.

By contrast, businesses that quickly and effectively adapt to evolving client and organizational needs will survive lean times and, in many cases, thrive. This process of rapid innovation gives companies a better chance of emerging from a recession stronger and more profitable than before.

What follows are some do’s and don’ts for fostering innovation.

What Works

When people have a common belief system and clear vision of the corporate mission, great things can happen, even during a recession. Try these strategies:

  • Do write down values and reinforce them by living them every day, starting at the top. Recognize individuals at all levels of the organization who demonstrate the values on a consistent basis.
  • Do make your organization’s overall vision and strategy crystal clear to prevent people or groups from pursuing directions inconsistent with the company’s vision or ability to support “out-of-bounds” ideas.
  • Do encourage accountability from the bottom up to help your team stay motivated even when top leaders are not directly involved.
  • Do create an environment where people are encouraged to try new things and potential failure is seen as part of the creative process.
  • Do foster an environment of intellectual honesty in which ideas are challenged and debated in a positive and risk-free climate. This will result in better critical thinking at all levels.
  • Do promote successes frequently. Share the process with other team members to help replicate success in other areas.

What Doesn’t Work

Establishing a culture of innovation is not something that happens overnight with a couple of quick meetings or a team retreat. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t dictate a value system. Values cannot be forced on people; they have to be adopted. People need to see everyone else (especially the leaders) living core values.
  • Don’t try to enforce a top-down accountability strategy. This will result in resentment and completely undermine the innovative spirit.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks. It is foolhardy to blindly allow change without considering the possible scope of failure. For example, if a team has an idea for a radical change to a service offering, don’t test-drive it on your biggest or best customer.
  • Don’t obsess about making it work. A culture of innovation will evolve as the business evolves.

Within an innovation culture, creative thinking and action are promoted through personal accountability at every level of the organization, within boundaries that are clearly understood. People are energized by the knowledge that they can make a difference to the clients and the overall success of their organization. With this kind of energy, your organization will not only survive an economic downturn, but it is certain to emerge stronger when it is over.

When people have a common belief system and clear vision of the corporate mission, great things can happen.

Mike Taylor, founder and CEO of Innovative-e, is a global entrepreneur, business consultant and certified Project Management Professional.

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